We all know it’s time for flu vaccines in aged care: flu season is on us for 2021. As IPC leads, it can be challenging to ensure monthly initiatives are received by staff and not just as another part of information overload. What’s crucial is making sure that you’re prioritising the right parts of your IPC program to avoid disaster. At this time of the year, influenza immunisation becomes a huge part of that strategy.

Why are flu vaccines so important in aged care?

Immunisation against influenza can easily be underestimated, yet for nine months of the year immunisation supports every other IPC initiative, with the overall goal of reducing infection transmission.  Silent transmission or asymptomatic transmission of influenza is estimated in as much as 20%–50% of the population. Now think about how many people come into your facility every day, whether staff, residents or visitors.

Influenza immunisation is highly recommended for those who can have the vaccine. Due to the decreased immune capacity of the elderly, some do not develop immunity to influenza following vaccination. Therefore, health professionals, friends and family are strongly advised to have the vaccine in order to prevent the transmission of influenza to those that they care for.

Flu vaccines and infection control

Infection prevention and control is the underpinning goal of every IPC program, and the annual influenza immunisation program is one of your facility’s best infection prevention strategies; it is financially sustainable and requires few resources to implement.

Influenza immunisation:

  • Protects our workforce. Less transmission means less time spent on sick leave. Less illness prevents the toll outbreaks and periods of absence have on our workload and workforce.
  • Protects our revenue by mitigating the additional costs associated with outbreaks, additional staffing and hospital-acquired infections.
  • Supports our residents’ quality of life, reducing severe illness which can in turn reduce adverse outcomes and mortality.
  • Reduces the likelihood and necessity of hospital-level care. This reduces the risk of transmission of further disease. Hospital-acquired infections are a significant burden for older adults. Over a third of all multi-resistant organisms (MROs) are found in the elderly, and MROs in residential care facilities now outnumber those in acute care. 

Flu vaccination and AMS

Influenza immunisation supports our AMS programs by decreasing the likelihood of secondary bacterial infections and inappropriate prescribing for viral illness. This in turn slows the development of antibiotic-resistant microorganisms;  which reduces organisms needing treatment and giving them the opportunity to resist our lines of defence.

Perhaps less considered but of great value, influenza immunisation may protect our vulnerable older people from falls.  It is not difficult to understand how influenza can debilitate an already frail system resulting in an increase of falls.

In aged care, it’s not just a flu.

It takes significantly longer for an older adult to recover from influenza due to the immune changes that occur with age and frailty. Medical professionals use the term ‘sequelae’ to describe secondary illness, which is often what older adults succumb to following an influenza infection.

Sequelae are an aftereffect or secondary result. Sequelae of influenza can be catastrophic or debilitating, inducing or exacerbating chronic conditions and outcomes like cardiac events, stroke, falls and fractures and respiratory failure.

Be wise, get immunised.

When considering the health of your residents, staff and visitors, as well as the robustness of your IPC program, flu immunisation is a worthwhile focus area. Reducing the risk of influenza transmission will not only keep your residents more comfortable, but it will save your facility resources while improving your infection control effectiveness. It’s a win-win!

Looking for more ways to improve infection control? Bug Control have over 25 years in aged care infection prevention and control across Australia and New Zealand. Get in touch and see what we can do for you.

References

https://academic.oup.com/ofid/article/7/7/ofaa223/5854124

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6183139/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5648009/#:~:text=While%20surgical%20site%20infections%20account,acute%20care%20facilities%20%5B5%5D.

https://www.influenza.org.nz/shivers-serosurvey

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7204009/